Buster Olney on M&M: 'Important to temper expectations' for Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr.

April 30, 2014 - 9:50 am

ESPN MLB insider Buster Olney joined Mut & Merloni on Wednesday to talk about Red Sox rookies Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr., John Lackey and his resurgence, which team in the AL East has the highest ceiling and more. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page. Bogaerts and Bradley Jr. haven'€™t gotten off to the most productive starts in 2014, with Bradley holding a .244 batting average and Bogaerts having committed four errors. Despite some growing pains, Olney notes rookies are doing well when framed in the proper context. "I think it is important to temper expectations for Xander Bogaerts and for Jackie Bradley Jr. this year because they'€™re young players and there are going to be times when they go up and down," Olney said. "But it is worth nothing that early in the year, Xander Bogaerts has a .378 on-base percentage. I mean, my goodness, you take that out of guys in the middle of their careers, let alone someone on the outset of his career. "And Jackie Bradley Jr. has an on base percentage today of .344 and eventually it looks like he'€™ll be able to be that guy who'€™s going to be the leadoff hitter, but I know the Red Sox front office is really intent on letting him ease his way on in rather than have to deal with the pressure." One of Bogaerts' biggest problems hasn't been at the plate but rather at shortstop. Other teams have even started to question if the 21-year-old ever will develop into a solid defender. "Rival executives have told me that they have some questions about his range going to his left," Olney said. "And it'€™s interesting, it actually reminds me a little bit of what I've heard of [Derek] Jeter even in the middle of his career, where people say, 'Boy, there'€™s not as much range as some other shortstops, and especially with Derek going to his left.' But I still think with Xander it'€™s obviously way too early to make a final assessment on what he'€™s going to be." According to Olney, Bogaerts' teammates see him putting in the effort to become a better shortstop. "They felt like that as comfortable as he is batting and as relaxed as he is batting that defense is a grind for him," Olney said. "And not necessarily because -- not that that'€™s a bad thing, but it'€™s just something that he works at and puts a lot of pressure on himself with. ... He wants to get better defensively and so he'€™s probably in some respect at times he'€™s like a young hitter going through a batting slump. He'€™s trying to do the right things, he'€™s trying to work on the right things. And defense doesn't come to him quite as naturally to him as hitting does." Lackey, now two years removed from Tommy John surgery, has continued his successful 2013 season into 2014. Olney isn't surprised by Lackey'€™s improvement after speaking with individuals around the league. "I think there was confidence among the people I spoke with with other teams that he was going to be able to back it up because it was clear from his conditioning that he had really invested in himself and put himself in a better position," Olney said. "And that start I saw in person, when he threw against the Yankees last week, he'€™s throwing hard. And certainly much harder than he was before surgery. But his velocity still kind of surprises you a little bit, that he can throw that hard at this stage." The Red Sox, at 13-14, are third in the division, 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Yankees. While some believe the Red Sox will come out on top, Olney sees a different team that could challenge the Red Sox. "I will say this, among all the teams, I think potentially the highest ceiling at this point, and you know I picked the Red Sox to win the division and picked the Rays to finish second, but with Matt Moore down I think potentially the high ceiling in this division belongs to the Baltimore Orioles, who get back their best player today in Manny Machado," Olney said. "They've got some terrific young pitching coming in, up from the minor leagues. It could manifest itself during the year. They've got such a deep lineup, especially when Chris Davis is in there. ... That's the team, to me, if you're a Red Sox fan, that you would be looking at and saying, 'That'€™s a dangerous group.' "